The Kutigi’s Scroll Featured

Monday, 21 November 2016 00:00 Written by  Published in The Nation Read 379 times
Nigerian map Nigerian map



Mustafa Folami takes a peek into the history of Nigeria’s federal system, concluding that re-arranging the structure is inevitable



In his celebrated article, “The Mistake of 1914”, the public scholar, Professor Wole Soyinka, opined that “whenever you find a nation obliged to scrutinize, even interrogate its origin over and over again, as we appear condemned to do within the nation space called Nigeria, it is certain that there is something fundamentally flawed, or troubling in the current condition that defines that nation space.” This submission leads us to the Frostian analysis: “A nation is a choice. It chooses itself at a fateful forks road by turning left or right, by giving up something and in the giving  up and in the taking, and in the deciding and not deciding a nation becomes.”


The Frostian submission was re-casted in our collective psyche during Nigeria’s Truce Commission, better known as Oputa panel. In the words of the secretary of the Commission, Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah in his recent book, “Witness to Justice”, the debate over the method for devising the most equitable mechanism for power sharing in Nigeria is as old as the history of the union itself. Even with time, the prejudice, the fears, anxieties and suspicion remain largely intact. If anything, rather than cure these tendencies, time has only reinforced them.”


The nation has moved from protectorates to one country made up of three regions, then four, to 12, 19, 21, and now 36 states and a federal capital territory along with 774 local government councils.


In 1995, the military government adopted one of the recommendations of the constitutional conference for that year and created what it called six geo-political zones. This systematic dismembering of the country, rather than appease the sentiments of citizens and their so-called cries against injustice, has further exacerbated the calls for further balkanization.


It is logical to conclude that rather than serve as a unifying factor, this process of creating various units of governance has had opposite effect and has further alienated citizens and created further disenchantment. The reasons are simple: every time we create a new boundary, majority becomes a minority or vice versa, leading to new fears of oppression and domination.


Unable to address the project of good governance, the military hierarchy continued to pander to the greed of the local ethnic elite who merely saw in the fragmentation of the state, new avenues to further accumulate state resources.


From the Willink Commission (1957-58) which came to be known as minorities commission in 1958, through a plethora of constitutional conferences to the much denigrated vision 2010, the nation has never lacked an elaborate avalanche of well thought out and well written plans. In fact, a re-reading of the Willink Commission reports shows distinctively that very little has changed in terms of substance of the allegation of the victim of power in Nigeria on the one hand, and the perception of their so-called oppressors on the other.


This perception surrounding power sharing are constructed around very popular but untrue interpretations of the power relations among contending groups on the one hand and the process of representation by the disenfranchised on the other.


A motley group of over 400 ethnic groups scattered across the length and breath of the country has continued to perceive itself as being what has become known as minorities.


Beyond the competition to enter the power loop, neither culture nor tribe, religion or region unite them. Yet, the feelings persists that there are conspiracies of domination of one group by the other.


False assumptions about these relations have deepened the suspicions and are responsible for the constant intra and inter-ethnic conflicts that have hampered national development.


As amiable as the Kukian submission is, the centrifugal forces of agitation has not abated. Why?


This without doubt leads us to the academic arsenal of Itse Sagay, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Benin. According to Sagay, “in the beginning, there was no Nigeria.” There were Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Kanuris, Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukuns, Edos, Ibibios, Efiks, Idomas, Tivs, Junkuns, Biroms, Angas, Ogojas, Ebiras, and so on. Prior to the British conquest of these nations, they were independent nation states and communities independent of each other and of Britain.


The bulk of what is now Nigeria became British territory between 1885 and 1914, although some autonomous communities were not conquered and incorporated in the protectorates until the early twenties.


The post World War II trauma ushered in the Macpherson Constitution, which brought fundamental changes into the imperial/native relationship and the relationship between the native Nigerian groups/ethnics. This marked the formal introduction of federalism into Nigeria. The coming together of these autonomous communities gave rise to the federal government. In other words, the federal government is an agency of the nationalities which is made up of the various states.


The subsequent ‘creation of states’ by the military governments must be discounted as part of the distortions and mutilation of the entity, brought about by unlawful usurpation of power. Nigeria is therefore, a federation of former kingdoms, empires, states, nations and autonomous communities.


In understanding the above submission, we move to an ardent observer of the political climate since the advent of our nascent democratic setting, but before that let us peep into Nietche. In his book, ‘The will to Power’, he said, “for some time now our European culture has been moving us towards  a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.”


It is on this Nietchean submission that the thoughts of Bolaji Akinyemi are premised. According to Akinyemi, Emeritus Professor of International Studies at a lecture on the nature of Nigeria, federalism has been driven by the agitation for identity recognition by national groups. But the response to the agitation has in fact been a negation of the principle of the identity recognition.


“The Igbo by cultural definition are recognized as a nation and yet they have broken up into five states with a sizeable presence in Rivers and Delta states. The Yorubas are regarded as a nation and yet they are divided into six states with a sizeable presence in Kogi, Kwara, and Delta states. The Hausas are regarded as anation and yet divided into six states. The Fulani are a nation but with presence in all states of the North. The Ijaws regarded themselves as a nation with only one state but a sizeable presence in up to eight states. Yet, national groups continue to agitate for states of their own. Does this mean that endless creation of states is the only way to ensure peace, equity and stability in Nigeria?”


Akinyemi submitted that there is nothing called a thorough federalism. A federal system is one that addresses the specific on the ground rather than one based on a theoretical construct. He further said, “I will not indulge in the debate over when the rains started to fall on our heads but we are drenched by the rain. Yet, there is still an air of complacency on the part of the political elite that as usual, we will muddle through, I will not be too sure”.


Akinyemi had not finished peeping into his crystal ball when the wind blew it to the west. It was the turn of Isawa Elaigwu, Professor Emeritus of Political Science who, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Lagos, emboweled the jinn of federalism as practiced in Nigeria.


He posited that Nigeria is no longer ‘a mere geographical expression’, having been watered by the blood of over a million people. He touched on the origin of the continuous schisms between the north and south and between Igbos and Yorubas. While the South was not comfortable with the Northern tyranny of population, the North was not comfortable with the South tyranny of education and skills and thus tension was probably inevitable.


In entrenching his thesis, he opined that the classical concept of federalism as two parallels in government of co-coordinating jurisdiction operating in isolation from each other in a water-tight compartment is not a functional reality anywhere and no country has been able to embody all the federal principles, highlighting the difference between theory and practice across the globe.


He added that while some are symmetric, others are asymmetric, warning that federalism is not an elixir for solving all political problems. As such, problems like extraction of resources, justice, fairness, participation and economic development transcend the form of government. For instance, federal system does not supply human attitudes of fairness and justice.


Since the world ranking index of state weakness in 2008 by the Brooklyn institution, the country ranking of having the features of a failed state have accelerated. This without doubt must have precipitated the open letter of former president Olusegun Obasanjo to former president Goodluck Jonathan.


Obasanjo premised his argument on the asymmetric condensation of the federating units from a geopolitical permutation into mono-ethnic subjugation. According to the Obasanjo epistle, “I believe that politically, it was in the best interest of Nigeria that you, a Nigerian from minority group in the south could rise to the highest pinnacle of political leadership. It is now not a matter of the turn of any section or geographical area but the best interest of Nigerian and all Nigerians.”


For you to be “possessed” so to say, to the exclusion of most of the rest of Nigerians as an “Ijawman” is a mistake that should never be allowed to happen. Without doubt, Obasanjo’s epistle was a low intensity missile in the centrifugal forces that pervades the political power loop.


Why federalism?


Let us seek an answer from the thoughts of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In his book, Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, he posited that from our study of all countries of the world, two things stand out quite prominently. First, any country where there are divergences of languages and nationality, particularly of language, a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistics or national minority groups.


“On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against constitutional arrangements as such disappears. If the linguistics or national groups concerned are backward or too weak vis-à-vis the majority group or groups, their bitterness or hostility may be dormant or suppressed. But as soon as they become enlightened and politically conscious, and/or courageous leadership emerges among them, the bitterness and hostility come into the open, and remain sustained with all possible venom and rancor, until home rule is achieved”.


This view popularized by Awolowo was about the most universally held on the best form of government for Nigeria.


In 1953, during the famous debate on the motion for independence by Chief Anthony Enahoro, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the northern region, made an eloquent case for true federalism. He said: “sixty years ago, there was no country called Nigeria. What is now Nigeria consisted of a number of large and small communities all of which were different in their outlook and beliefs”.


 In order to have a better understanding of this view as posited by Awolowo, we turn to the arrowhead of the movement for national reformation: Anthony Enahoro. He along with his soulmate Mokogwu Okoye, held the view that Nigeria needs to introspect in other to develop and transcend its national question.


According to Enahoro, “the answer to Nigeria’s fundamental problems must begin with restructuring the federation, the answer does not lie in an immediate style election based solely on one-man, one-vote. In the Nigerian situation, you could achieve that kind of democracy within the nations or nationalities themselves because in each case the people share the same culture, the same values, the same language, the same orientations and aspirations, the same land tenure and social fabrics, and so on.


“But when you set out to create a viable federal structure and relationship between all these, you’ve got to design a formula under which they can live equitably together, and the formula must provide for organic existence and corporate integrity of the nationalities”.


In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society, a democracy of one-man, one-vote cannot succeed unless we properly regulate and moderate the relationship between the various nationalities and construct equitable power sharing structures. Consider the United Kingdom: some Scots are now saying they may no longer be prepared to take oath from the Queen. Since 1703 or even before then, Scotland has been successfully integrated with England, so the Scots now speak English, though with a different accent.


Yet they are insisting on reinvigorating and consolidating their own identity because they consider themselves a different people, and now they are to have their own parliament. So ultimately, the UK is bound to end up as a federation of its nationalities, each having its own integral internal autonomy”.


Like the Nietchean river that restlessly wants to reach its end, the political class needs to pause a little and ask this fundamental questions that acerbates our internal contradictions.


The questions that arise from the summation are: Are we an aggregation of ethnic nationalities? What are the fundamental structures of how we should relate? And what constitutes the retention of constituents units in the area of fiscal federalism angling on devolution, derivation and resource control?


This and other salient issues are what the Kutigi Conference attempted to solve in the dwindling moments of the last administration. It is pertinent at this juncture to make a passionate plea to President Buhari to critically take a look at this document which attempted to give a solution to our internal contradiction as a federating state, so that the various agitations of ethnic self determination and its economic nexus is nip in the bud.


In conclusion, I bring to life the parting words of Ali Mazrui, “the Nigerian federation is getting more decentralized, and part of the decentralization is taking the form of cultural self determination. In Yorubaland this cultural self determination is taking the form of Yoruba Nationalism. In Igboland it is taking new demands for confederation. In the Muslim North cultural self determination is the Shariah Question”.


This and more are the tripodial agitation that needs urgent attention as the agitation for self determination acerbates in the Niger Delta, and we should not be in a hurry to forget that the BokoHaram insurgency started as a quest for an Islamic state within the secular state structure. In all of this, one thing is certain: a dialogue to restructure the Nigerian state is needed. 


Mustapha Folami

Fulami Mustafa Olawole who hails from Lagos, Nigeria attended Surulere Baptist School, Lagos and Government College, Lagos. A graduate of University of Ilorin, Mustafa is married and presently works as a journalist in Kano.